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Absolute measures of the completeness of the fossil recordMeasuring the completeness of the fossil record is essential to understanding evolution over long timescales, particularly when comparing evolutionary patterns among biological groups with different preservational properties. Completeness measures have been presented for various groups based on gaps in the stratigraphic ranges of fossil taxa and on hypothetical lineages implied by estimated evolutionary trees. Here we present and compare quantitative, widely applicable absolute measures of completeness at two taxonomic levels for a broader sample of higher taxa of marine animals than has previously been available. We provide an estimate of the probability of genus preservation per stratigraphic interval, and determine the proportion of living families with some fossil record. The two completeness measures use very different data and calculations. The probability of genus preservation depends almost entirely on the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic records, whereas the proportion of living families with a fossil record is influenced largely by Cenozoic data. These measurements are nonetheless highly correlated, with outliers quite explicable, and we find that completeness is rather high for many animal groups.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
External Source(s)
Foote, M.
(University of Chicago Illinois 60637, United States)
Sepkoski, J. J. Jr
Sepkoski JJ, J. r.
Date Acquired
August 22, 2013
Publication Date
April 1, 1999
Publication Information
Publication: Nature
Volume: 398
Issue: 6726
ISSN: 0028-0836
Subject Category
Geosciences (General)
Distribution Limits
Non-NASA Center
NASA Discipline Exobiology

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